I have heard people refer to Alexander the Great as one of the greatest military commanders of all time because he was "undefeated in battle" during his lifetime. Is this true? I can imagine him winning every war that he fought but to win every battle seems like an incredible feat. Do we know of any individual battles that he outright lost?

  • He lost one battle when his troops entered India and saw elephants for the first time. They then learned that the elephants can be easily frightened, and in the following battle the elephants handed them an easy victory as they trampled over their opponents.
    – axsvl77
    Aug 10 '16 at 2:16
  • Hypapses if memory serves - which in this instance it may very well not.
    – Anaryl
    Aug 10 '16 at 8:58
  • 2
    Hydaspes seems to be a victory for Alexander.
    – MCW
    Aug 10 '16 at 12:07
  • @axsvl77 and Anaryl I think you might both be slightly wrong. Firstly because Alexander won at Hydaspes River, gaining control of Punjab. Secondly because he already fought a (small) elephant corps at Gaugamela, where he (famously) won.
    – Ludi
    Aug 10 '16 at 13:28
  • 1
    For a quick review of Alexander's career see ancient.eu/article/660; he won every battle. The revolt of his troops lead to the evacuation of his most eastern conquests. He died at Babylon, probably of pneumonia, aggravated by his injuries. Aug 10 '16 at 13:36

If Alexander the Great is labelled as "one of the greatest military commanders of all time" is not because he wasn't defeated, but because his conquests.

Having said that, yes, it's true: there's no single defeat recorded for Alexander.

It can be argued the primary sources about his life were not impartial, but the Battle of Hydaspes river is recorded as a decisive victory for the Macedonians, not even a "Pyrrhic" victory.

Alexander's troops mutinied at the Hyphasis river because exhaustion at the prospects of campaigning for eight years more, as Alexander (at first) had no intentions of turning back.

But even if Alexander lost a battle anywhere, that wouldn't make of him a less better commander. Most commanders wearing the "undefeated" badge could choose to fight or not to fight (Davout and Suvorov come to mind). Others simply could not afford that luxury.

  • 3
    The only defeat of Alexander was not in a battle but in a siege. He failed to conquer Termessos.
    – Midas
    Aug 18 '16 at 18:40

It's hyperbole.

By what rubric are we measuring greatest? Let's make no mistake, ALexander achieved some amazing victories - but were they the astoundingest ? Did he overcome the greatest tactical or strategic disadvantages? Where's the measurements? Territory conquered?

At any rate, the one to me that was always the most portentous, (and some might dispute this rather oblique, sleep deprived, wine fueled answer.)

The Gordian Knot.

  • 4
    I like what you say, but it seems off topic.
    – Ludi
    Aug 10 '16 at 9:26
  • -2 my poor ego! Downvotes might make more sense were there other answers.
    – Anaryl
    Aug 10 '16 at 10:23
  • 1
    There are no other answers because the question is asking for disproof of an accepted fact. Every source I consulted agreed that Alexander was undefeated (except for a suspicious H:SE answer and a metaphorical article on another site.) This answer does not respond to the question asked.
    – MCW
    Aug 10 '16 at 12:12
  • @MarkC.Wallace Not sure how your conclusion follows from your premise. Whether or not it is an proven historical fact doesn't alter the story of the Knot. As we don't have any normal 'defeats' this is about as good as it gets. Of course it is an offbeat answer which some might not agree with - but it clearly responds to the question. Alexander did more with more, but the question implies were there commanders who did more with less. No doubt he was an able conquerer but were there others who did more with less?
    – Anaryl
    Aug 11 '16 at 1:09
  • I'd argue Napoleon was a superior commander, even if he did record defeats, because he was able to continually overcome greater odds to achieve victory. He also came from poorer origins. Alexander was raised to be a conqueror. But that's just a trivia. I'm sure arguments can could be made for anyone's pet conqueror.
    – Anaryl
    Aug 11 '16 at 1:11

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